It is strongly rumoured that at some point in the early part of 2016 the government of the day will make a decision about the replacement of the current Trident missile submarine fleet. We would all hope that, in a democracy, such a decision would be taken in Parliament after due scrutiny by those who seek to represent the interests and opinions of the electorate and that, in an ideal world, such a momentus decision about committing billions of pounds of public money to a defence system which can never be used would be preceded by a public information campaign. You would be forgiven if you thought that the decision had already been taken, in secret with no public or Parliamentary scrutiny involved. While election fever sees politicians posturing over tuition fees, immigration, benefits and education, the main political parties are conspiring to keep the issue of the UK's possession of weapons of mass destruction and the massive public financial commitment it entails, firmly off the agenda. Only the threat posed by the Scottish Nationalists who have ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives and who will make life very difficult for a minority Labour government unless the Trident issue is resolved, has brought the issue any sort of profile over the last few month.
The fact is that Trident is being renewed now, with no public debate and with no approval by Parliament. Project Pegasus – a 'highly sensitive' manufacturing plant at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Berkshire designed to enrich uranium for Trident nuclear missiles – has a price tag of £634 million and rising. Project Mensa – a development designed to improve warhead assembly facilities to ensure that the weapons are constructed more effectively and robustly – will cost at least £734 million. Both projects are going ahead, although they are delayed and over budget to the point where the cost of Pegasus in particular has been characterised as potentially 'spiralling out of control'. In total, AWE will soak up £10bn over the next ten years and the if Trident is renewed in its current configuration of four submarines with one maintaining a constant at sea presence at any time, the overall cost over 30 – 40 years will be a staggering £100bn. Defence contractors are rubbing their hands at the prospect of large amounts of public money coming in their direction, despite serious doubts about the ability of the AWE contractors to operate the site effectively and safely: in 2013, AWE was fined £200,000 for breaching safety laws following an explosion at the Aldermaston site and for two consecutive years, the nuclear regulator, Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has placed AWE under 'special measures' due to radiological hazards of the site and below par safety performance.
Yet all this sleight of hand activity and the robbing of the public purse to pay for nuclear madness rather than to enhance public good continues against an international backcloth which will inevitably – and possibly within a few short years – see nuclear weapons outlawed. The nine nuclear armed states have consistently ignored international demands to disarm while over nearly 70 nations have unequivocally voiced their support for a nuclear ban treaty which is widely seen as an inevitable outcome of the gathering international concern over the humanitarian impacts of the use of even a small number of nuclear weapons. As Nuclear Information Service recently reported, the momentum for a ban was given a significant boost in December last year in Vienna. Nations around the world along with a generation of young people determined to create a world in which people can live without fear of nuclear immolation are demanding that we dismantle nuclear arsenals to remove this inhuman threat. And, as grist to that mill, Nuclear Information Service recently organised a workshop in which 45 UK NGO delegates participated. Its remit was to begin the process of examining how the UK nulcear disarmament movement can co-operate and collaborate more effectively over the next 18 months to ensure that our politicians not only take a decision on Trident in a democratic manner but that their decision reflects the views of their constituents across the country. Nuclear Inforation Service will follow up this workshop in several ways: we hope to organise a second workshop to build on the progress made at the first one held in early February, the objective being to help the disarmament movement work more closely together over the coming months on projects which will bring the issue of nuclear weapons to the fore in the political agenda with a focus on the period after the general election and before the 2016 Trident renewal deadline. Looking to the future, our focus will be on the impact of a post-nuclear weapons world and what it will mean for the Atomic Weapons Establishment which will be faced with a decommissioning programme of epic proportions. And NIS will also be examining the consequences of possessing nuclear weapons – the waste, the risks, the accidents – as our contribution to the debate which we hope will culminate in 2016 in an historical decision to abandon the UK's nuclear waepons and remove the stigma from future generations that the UK has endured since the end of WW2.
Polls indicate that the majority of people in the UK oppose the possession of nuclear weapons. It is our collective job to force politicians to explain why they think it is acceptable for Britain to possess nuclear weapons but not for others, We must require them to reflect the views of their electorates and to make a decision in 2016 which allows us all to see who is in favour of retaining a weapons system which we can never use, which makes us more of a target than enhances our security, which increases the risk of accidents and which is morally and ethically reprehensible. In short, we must force our Parliamentarians to have the courage to stand up for sanity, peace and the spending of our national wealth on social goods rather than nuclear weapons.